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McDonald’s lands top spot in new fast food list

Fast food giving people something to talk about

McDonald's Egg McMuffin
Getty Images

When it comes to buzz, food reigns supreme.

"Out of everything we cover, food and dining are the most talked-about things—even more than media and entertainment," said Ed Keller, president at Engagement Labs and CEO of The Keller Fay Group.

The Keller Fay Group recently polled people to gauge fast food's top restaurants for word of mouth. The research and analytics firm asked 17,863 Americans to record which fast food chains they spoke about that day. They then used this national cross section to estimate the average number of total offline impressions per month.

About 30 percent of people polled daily had at least one conversation about fast food on the days they were polled.

Keller stressed the importance of in-person conversations for generating a restaurant's sales.

"It's the way consumers make decisions," he said, adding that to be a "to be a vibrant brand today, you have to be part of the conversation."

So, how did the rankings shake out? Click ahead to read the full list.

—By CNBC's Katie Little

Published Oct. 21, 2015

10. Dunkin Donuts

Getty Images

Word of mouth: 60 million projected offline word-of-mouth impressions per month, on average

Nearly three-quarters of sentiment was positive for the chain, higher than average for brands included in the poll. Overall, Dunkin drew positive sentiment two thirds of the time.

In the past three months, Dunkin hasn't fared as well on Wall Street. The stock's down 25 percent amid concern about store closings.

9. Chick-fil-A

Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich.
J.Reed | Flickr Commons

Word of mouth: 62 million projected impressions

Known for its fried chicken and waffle fries, the privately held chain earned the distinction of having the most positive sentiment of the Top 10, at 84 percent. It also generated strong word-of-mouth momentum versus last year, rising 15 percent.


8. Domino's Pizza

Source: Dominos

Word of mouth: 74 million projected word-of-mouth impressions

The pizza chain saw its momentum rise the most of the group, jumping 19 percent.

7. Kentucky Fried Chicken

Yum! Brands

Word of mouth: 77 million projected word-of-mouth impressions

The Yum Brands unit has seen its momentum slide 14 percent.


6. Subway

Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Word of mouth: 133 million projected impressions

Despite a porn scandal involving longtime and recently axed spokesman Jared Fogle, Subway sparked positive sentiment 71 percent of the time.


5. Wendy’s

Wendy's fast-food restaurant in Brooklyn, New York
Getty Images

Word of mouth: 139 million projected impressions

The burger chain edged slightly above Subway.

4. Burger King

Burger King Nuggets
Source: Burger King

Word of mouth: 175 million projected impressions

The Restaurant Brands International unit saw a 16 percent drop in momentum during the period.


3. Starbucks

Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Word of mouth: 178 million projected impressions

The coffee giant's shareholders saw bigger returns this year those of any other company in the Top 10. Starbucks stock is up 48 percent year to date.

2. Taco Bell

Taco Bell’s Biscuit Taco
Candice Tahi | CNBC

Word of mouth: 192 million projected impressions

Taco Bell has focused on several innovative products like the biscuit taco and Cap'n Crunch delights in addition to doubling down on driving mobile and online orders this year.

The chain is holding strong in word of mouth, coming in second place, outpacing its position as the sixth biggest restaurant by U.S. sales.

1. McDonald's

A McDonald's in Sarasota, Florida
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Word of mouth: 535 million projected impressions

Despite its recent U.S. turbulence, McDonald's dominates fast-food sales. Last year, they were nearly triple that of the closest food and beverage chain, Starbucks.

That frontrunner status carries over into word-of-mouth mentions.

"There's no question that there's something of a relationship between brand size and word of mouth," Keller said. "Some brands overperform and some underperform."

But all's not rosy at the Golden Arches. Sentiment was positive just 55 percent of the time — the lowest portion of the Top 10.